Conference Report: Identity and Vinyl Culture, 18 Nov 2017, University of Birmingham

With a broad representation of scholars from the USA and the UK, the University of Birmingham welcomed a diverse audience on Saturday 18th November 2017 for the Identity and Vinyl Culture study day. The aims of were two-fold: to enhance each other’s research with constructive feedback; and to connect with like-minded people across the world with similar interests in format theory, digitalisation and resurgent technology as a means of self-identity construction.

The overarching theme was how and why a so-called “retro-technology” rediffuses into mainstream modern society. Keynote speaker Professor Paul Long (Birmingham City University) discussed this succinctly with his paper entitled “‘You went away, you can’t come back’: How vinyl is back but not back back”. His conclusion was that rather than a straightforward resurgence, vinyl technology has taken on a new form and context and represents an entirely different entity.

The mutable use characteristics of records, as bearers of history and age, were considered by Iain Taylor (Birmingham City University) in a detailed look at collectorship and the construction of identity via records that have lost use and exchange value. It was argued that such value is no longer inherent but negotiated in a cyclical manner using records as a blank canvas.

Gabrielle Kielich (McGill University) extrapolated this specifically to the turntable in its current form of Instagram-friendly kitsch chic and discussed how consumer demographics have changed along with such technology’s remediation. With a growth of young girls engaging with these brands, this has extended into a form of free labour on the manufacturers behalf via social media exhibition. Rather than being a reprieve from the popular, it becomes the popular.

Notions of identity within the public sphere theory were explored by Dr Tim J Anderson (Old Dominion University) as a mechanism of exclusion by gender and ethnicity. This was extended by Karlyn King (University of Birmingham) who presented evidence on the gendering of vinyl in a post war historical context compared with today. Notions of collectorship and how they relate to various genders were noted as an area for further exploration.

The event concluded with a consideration of other conferences and journal editions focussed on popular music consumption as a historical referent beyond the obvious milestones.

The organisers would like to thank the Royal Musical Association for its support of the event, along with the University of Birmingham’s Music Department.

Karlyn King is a Postgraduate Researcher at the University of Birmingham examining the topic of formats and gender.

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